Volume 14, Number 1, September-October 2010

 

Port Austin Bible Campus Update:

A Home for the Homeless

I apologize for the lateness of this issue, but thank you for reading anyway. Our six years of maintaining these buildings and struggling to fund the ministries here are finally paying off! Our main building is now completely full of people —16 to be exact. Most of them were homeless people.

Since the last update, our four-year resident William Swenson has moved back to his home area where he is enrolled in college. Rick and Karen have moved on as well. Robert and Lynn Crawford responded to our request for help with homeless people and moved here in May. Robert is doing an excellent job of maintaining our facilities.

Adam Miller is planning to move here from Texas about the beginning of March to be a full-time manager for the homeless. He will be greatly appreciated. There are virtually unlimited opportunities to teach biblical principles and preach the gospel. Because we do not directly accept government money, we are able to do this.

Most of the homeless people staying with us have some kind of assistance which they can use to help us pay the expenses of running PABC—but not yet the ability to live on their own.

The first homelessness family came in June: dad, mom and 6-month old baby. They were originally from the Detroit area, but had left to escape the crime and difficult shelter conditions there and to stay with a friend in Huron County (our county). Their friend asked them to leave suddenly—putting them out on the street. The local homeless coalition put them in a hotel for a night, and then called us. If we did not accept them, the nearest shelters that would accept them are in Port Huron, Bay City and Saginaw—each about 90 minutes away. Most of these are separate men’s and women’s shelters, which would split up their family. If one of the shelter facilities is full (which happens often now), they would have to go to separate cities, leaving them with no regular way to see each other. This is not a good way to preserve a marriage. This family is still at PABC. They have found a variety of work while here and plan to be into their own place early next year.

We have another family of five, with three children ages 1, 2 and 3. The father had lost his job and they were behind on their rent, but would have easily been able to catch up from the good pay provided to him through his National Guard unit, which was scheduled to deploy. Without any warning, four days before deployment, he was given a medical reason why he was not accepted—even though he had been fully able to train with the unit. The situation was further compounded by a large National Guard expense reimbursement due them that was delayed for months due to a bank transfer error. Jobs are hard to find in Huron County, and with no resources, they were evicted. They stayed with family and friends for a couple of weeks, but not everyone knows how to live with three small children in the house. They found the door locked one morning and their friends gone, so they spent a day on the street with their children making over 100 phone calls looking for help, and finally came to PABC that night. He has since obtained a full-time job and they also hope to have a place of their own in a month or so.

Two single men, both long-time Sabbath keepers on disability, have come to PABC from a congregation in Chicago that has ties to PABC. Both left living situations that were collapsing (to put it mildly). Many of the people on disability receive only about $600 per month, plus food cards, so they do not have a lot of options to pay for rent, utilities and other essentials. These men regularly participate in our morning Bible studies and enjoy it very much. They are helping out with some PABC chores and making use of the many Christian books and videos in the PABC library or the member’s personal collections.

We recently accepted another young man to PABC who came from a difficult home environment and years of prescription anti-depression drugs. He is a skilled man and a good worker, but lost his driver’s license wrongfully (too long a story to print here, but there was no accident or any danger to anyone). With thousands of dollars in fees to get it back, and no good way to get to work in a county where most everything is spread out, what do you do? Steve came to PABC not just to find a place to live, but because he wanted to turn to God. He is an avid participant in our Bible studies and reads a lot on his own—including this writer’s paper on baptism. He has made great progress in overcoming the habits that troubled him in the past.

In addition to the above people, who are with us as of this writing, we have had another family and a few individuals stay at PABC for a few days to a couple months while they found jobs and made arrangements for new places to live.

We have also provided peace of mind to a few people who were being forced out of one living arrangement and not sure if their new living arrangement would be ready on time or not. To give a realistic example, what do you do if you have to leave your present place this week, and the two nearby places you have found to move to are not supposed to be ready until next week? Do you concentrate your efforts on trying to get a little more time where you are and try to speed up the process of moving into the new place? Or do you simply try to sell everything you have and go to live with an out of state relative, essentially starting your life over? When people know that PABC will be there to bridge the gap if they cannot get their move-out and move-in dates connected, it allows them to focus on making the best arrangements.

Some reading this might rightfully say, “If these people planned ahead and had a savings, they would not be in these predicaments.” In some cases, that is certainly true. But we are also amazed at how many situations we encounter where people tried to plan ahead, and where homelessness is caused by situations that are difficult to foresee.

One man, who was on a limited fixed income, had a plan to move out of his current dwelling and into another. When it became clear that the new one would not be available in time, he quickly applied to a couple other places ($25 application fee each) and paid $50 to enroll in a subsidized housing program. He later found that he did not qualify for the government program, and the other places could not provide a place as soon as he needed it. He had obtained assistance to pay for his rent, but he had no more money—either for transportation or to apply to other places.

The friend with whom this man was temporarily staying called PABC and asked if we could take him for a few days until one of the a apartments he applied to became available. We told her yes, but asked her to drive him to PABC as our budget was very tight and the 70 mile round-trip to get him would not be considered an insignificant expense. After explaining more about the difficult financial situation of PABC, the friend at first said they would bring him, but then later she called back and said that she and her husband had decided to make some minor modifications to their garage so that the man could stay there with them until his new place was ready.

That is wonderful! The Christian life is not just about doing good to others, it is about inspiring others to do the same. If you think about it, there are plenty of empty homes, empty apartments, vacation homes, empty trailers, spare bedrooms, etc. to house all of the homeless people in this country many times over. The problem is, there are not enough Christians willing to make the effort to analyze what each homeless person can contribute toward his situation, to let them use their empty facilities, and to send them out if they do not contribute what they are able. Maybe this writing will inspire others to do so.

This writer would be remiss to make serving the homeless sound like a bed of roses. Do some of them lie and try to take advantage of us? Yes. Is there a danger of physical violence? Yes, though we have not had any. Is there a danger of demonic spirits among them? Yes. None if this is stronger than the power of God. We have come to realize that the Christian life does have a certain amount of danger. From the faithful in Hebrews 11, to Saul’s persecution that scattered the church (Acts 8:1-4), to Paul’s numerous dangerous situations (2Cor 11:23-28) to the 144,000 that come out of the great tribulation (Rev 7); Christians have been in dangerous situations. When we suffer, we need to be sure that it is for doing our Father’s will, and not simply from our own mistakes:

For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God (1Pet 2:20).

We realize that there are “safer” methods of working with homeless people. Most shelters have a staff of people who work at the shelter but live at home—where they do not have to contend with the problems of the shelter. The shelter guests are held to a tight set of rules and only allowed in certain areas. There may be security staff, video cameras, hidden microphones, etc—more like a minimum-security jail.

Whereas at PABC, the staff actually lives in the same building as the homeless people 24 hours a day and shares some facilities with them (hallways, vacuum cleaners, some laundry rooms, kitchen, etc.). While this can be considered a greater danger in some ways, it is also a greater benefit as the staff has much more opportunity to witness what is really happening in the lives of their guests and encourage them in a Christian manner. Ultimately, we all have to rely on God’s protection for everything.

Living on the property greatly reduces costs compared to using a round-the-clock paid staff. For example, a nearby shelter(that only accepts battered women has at least one paid person at their shelter during all 168 hours per week. Sure, the night shifts—and sometimes other shifts—usually have little to do. Nevertheless, the annual budget to run the organization is about $200,000. By contrast, PABC has no paid people, but all volunteers who live here and work as a Christian Community, and has an annual budget of less than $30,000. Even now, PABC typically houses more needy people than the women’s shelter, and has much more capacity.

The local government agencies and other organizations that help homeless people now recognize PABC is a helpful part of local community service. We receive referrals directly from the Huron County Homeless Coalition, an organization designed to help homeless people find services available to them. These services are often scattered among many organizations and sometimes difficult to understand. Some groups provide just food, some baby needs, some job placement, some help with existing rent, some housing for just certain types of people (women, battered women, families, men), some help only disabled people, some help only substance abusers, etc. etc. And there are organizations that do these things only on a short-term basis and others on a long-term basis.

The Homeless Coalition also promotes homeless awareness in the community by holding their annual cardboard city on the courthouse lawn. They invited Norman Edwards from PABC to speak to the 70 or so high school students that took part in it this year.

PABC has been invited to send a representative to the bi-monthly Thumb Area Continuum of Care meetings, a group of about 20 people representing various government and private agencies of the three counties of Michigan’s “Thumb” (lower Michigan looks like a hand—which has a “thumb”). The first meeting went well with about 10 minutes of it devoted to PABC’s operations and facilities. PABC intends to send a representative to every meeting if possible.

Since our main building is now full, our biggest concern is bringing a reliable, economical source of heat to another one of our buildings. In these unoccupied buildings, the original steam heat has been removed and all we have at present is electric space heat—much more expensive, less safe, and more difficult to use. We would like to use wood heat because we would not have utility bills and because it would provide a place for all of us to go in the event of utility failures. Such a system would cost about $10,000 to implement. Installing gas heat would cost about $3500, but leave us with the ongoing cost of gas. A piece-meal approach is also possible: a wood stove here, a propane heater there and electric heat in between. This would be the cheapest to get started, but the most difficult to manage in the long run.

We have had some local people and churches contribute money toward our efforts to help the homeless people. Some specifically stated, though, that they want to contribute only to prevent homelessness and not to the church and other ministries located on our campus. For them, we have set up a special PABC homeless fund, or we have made arrangements for people to contribute directly to our utility bill accounts, thereby removing the possibility we would spend it for anything else. We would be glad to supply details to anyone interested.

What has happened to PABC’s goals to teach Sabbatarian young people? We still have them, but they are being pursued slowly at this time. We continue to write articles and maintain contact with a lot of young people, but we do not have anyone here who is dedicated to work with them at this time. The lessons learned from working with homeless people will be helpful for instructing young people and their parents. Many of the struggling people we encounter are suffering from easily identifiable problems that began when they were teens at home, which neither they nor their parents were able to correct.

May God help us to continue serving people in need, to teach them His ways, and to be timelier in our updates to you!.            &

 

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